Camera Test: Leica C-LUX 2

Leica's newest pocket digicam ships with an impressive software package and 2-year warranty, but is it worth the price?

Camera-Test-Leica-C-LUX-2
Camera-Test-Leica-C-LUX-2

Leica's 7.2-megapixel status symbol, the C-LUX 2 ($499 street), is certainly an attractive camera, with its sleek metal design and Leica's easily identifiable red dot logo. But at nearly $500, the camera's performance is more comparable to those in the $250-$350 range.

The 5.4 oz camera is virtually identical to Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX30 ($250 street). Available in silver or black, the C-LUX 2 packs a 3.6x zoom f/2.8-5.6 (28-100mm 35mm equiv zoom) Leica Vario-Elmarit DC lens with a true wide-angle setting of 28mm. The sharp 2.5" 207,000 pixel LCD screen is large and bright and easily viewable even in direct sunlight when gained up. Menus are easy to navigate and a button on the rear of the unit activates the camera's function menu, providing easy access to image stabilization, frame rate, white balance, ISO and resolution settings. Like many compact digicams, no optical viewfinder is provided, so images must be framed using the camera's LCD screen. A High Angle setting decreases LCD contrast while increasing brightness, making the display visible from higher angles, a handy feature for grabbing shots over a crowd of people.

The C-LUX 2 offers higher resolution and slightly improved high ISO performance than Leica's 5.1-megapixel C-LUX 1, which it replaces. The C-LUX 2 also comes with Panasonic's Venus III processing engine while maintaining the slick, lightweight size and styling of its predecessor.

The C-LUX 2 is identical to Panasonic's $250 FX-30 with few exceptions. Leica has replaced Panasonic's firmware with its own, but with the exception of the Leica logo, it's difficult to determine if any other changes were made. Leica confirms that the C-LUX 2 uses the same hardware as the FX-30.

The shooting mode dial near the camera's shutter release allows the user to select from several shooting modes. SCN activates the scene mode menu, prompting the user to select from one of 21 scene modes. Available options range from a party mode that activates the camera's optical image stabilization and slow-sync flash to a baby mode which allows the photographer to input the baby's birth date to be imprinted on the image. The mode dial also offers a movie mode, which records 30fps VGA video with sound, along with a macro mode, normal, easy mode and an intelligent ISO shooting mode, which bumps up the ISO speed in low-light situations.

Though Leica's much pricier interchangeable lens rangefinder models, such as the M8 give users complete control over every aspect of imaging, the C-LUX 2 does not provide a full manual mode -- typical for an ultra-compact, though not one costing $500. The camera offers exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments to +/-2 from the camera's meter -- ideal for tough lighting situations or when the camera's meter reading doesn't match the photographer's personal vision. Exposure compensation, flash settings, timer function and playback mode are all activated using the multi-button array on the rear of the camera.

The C-LUX 2 also offers two optical image stabilization modes based on Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. lens stabilization: While active, Mode 1 provides image stabilization visible on the LCD preview even without shutter depression. This mode shortens battery life while reducing shutter lag. Image stabilization in Mode 2 is only activated when the shutter button is fully pressed, though results are superior to Mode 1 as Panasonic's O.I.S. lens block is able to adjust more quickly from a dormant state. However, Mode 1 image stabilization is also available in video mode.

The camera's optical image stabilization helped keep images sharp even at slow shutter speeds. Because the C-LUX 2 does not provide full manual exposure control we were not able to test image stabilization in the Pop Photo Lab, though positive results were noticeable in field tests. The slowest default shutter speed under the normal shooting mode is 1/8 sec, which proved inadequate while shooting in dark rooms at low ISOs, though a menu option allows the user to keep the shutter open for up to a second if desired. The Starry Sky scene mode allows you to extend the shutter beyond 1 sec, leaving the shutter open for 15, 30 or 60 seconds to capture night scenes, so use a tripod for these long exposures!

The camera's playback menu provides options for a basic slideshow with transitions and sound and basic image editing such as rotation, resize and trimming. You can also add brief audio commentary under the camera's playback menu. DPOF print selection is also available through this menu.

The camera body is slim and very attractive with its sleek black or silver finish. The C-LUX 2 is heavy enough to feel solid and durable but light enough to feel comfortable in your hand or even shirt pocket. The shutter release button provides enough tactile feedback so you're aware of whether or not you're fully depressing the button or pushing halfway to pre-focus. However, applying a slight amount of pressure to the camera's thumb rest results in a strange squeaking sound and a bit of flex to the body, which is a bit unsettling in a $500 digicam.

Metering was accurate in our experiences with varied subject matter. As our lab tests proved, barrel distortion was evident in our wide-angle shots, particularly with straight lines towards the edge of the frame -- skip the rule of thirds and center the horizon for those sunset shots, or you'll have smiling and frowning horizons.

There is little shutter delay and auto focusing is fast under good lighting conditions. An auto-focus assist beam helps the camera focus in low light -- slowing focusing time, but not too much.

The Leica C-LUX 2 offers additional software over the Lumix DMC-FX30, including Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 (which is a Windows-only version) or Photoshop Elements 3 and 4 for Macintosh users and a 2-year warranty, making the higher cost slightly more palatable. For the die-hard Leica fan, the C-LUX 2 offers a good feature set in a very attractive design, but unless you're dead-set on your next pocket digicam bearing the famous red dot, it may be difficult to justify the steep price when there's a Panasonic version for half the price.

In the lab, the C-LUX 2 fared about average for its megapixel class, without setting any records. Resolution is Extremely High at ISO 100 (1675) and 200 (1600), but resolution tumbled at ISO 400 and beyond. At ISO 400 and 800, the C-LUX 2 scored Very High (1475, 1350), but at ISO 1250 resolution drops to High (1200). The noise rating is Moderately Low at ISO 100 (2.0) and 400 (2.2), but creeps to Moderate at ISO 200 (2.4). Noise is High/Unacceptable at ISO 800, (3.3), and 1250 (4.1). Color accuracy is Excellent with an Average Delta E of 8.0 at ISO 100, Auto White Balanced. Typical for a retracting-lens ultra-compact, there's visible barrel distortion at 28mm (.46%), imperceptible barrel at 62mm (.10%) and imperceptible Pincushion at 100mm (.01%). At approximately 275 shots under normal shooting conditions with minimal flash use, battery life was slightly lower than the CIPA rating of 300 shots. CERTIFIED TEST RESULTS Image quality: Extremely High from ISO 100-200
Resolution: ISO 100: Extremely High (1675); ISO 200:Extremely High (1600); ISO 400: Very High (1475); ISO 800: Very High (1350); ISO 1250: High (1200) Color accuracy: Excellent. Average Delta E 8.0 ISO 100 Auto White Balance. Noise: Moderately Low at ISO 100 (2.0), Moderate at ISO 200 (2.4), Moderately Low at ISO 400 (2.2), High/UNACCEPTABLE at ISO 800 (3.3), High/UNACCEPTABLE at ISO 1250 (4.3)
Lens Distortion: Visible Barrel at 28mm (.46%), Imperceptible Barrel at 62mm (.10%), Imperceptible pincushion at 100mm (.01%) CIPA rating of 300 shots IN THE BOX Leica C-LUX 2
64MB Secure Digital Card
Battery Pack BP-DC6 Battery Carrying Case Battery Charger AV Cable USB Cable Software DVD including Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 Wrist Strap Instruction Manuals in English, Spanish, French, Japanese LCD Display: 2.5" TFT color LCD (207,000 pixels) Dimensions (HxWxD): 2 x 3.7 x 0.9" (51.9 x 94.9 x 22mm) excluding projections Weight: approx 5.4 oz with battery and SD card COMPETITIVE SET • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX30 ($250 street) • Canon PowerShot SD800 IS ($310 street) • Fujifilm FinePix F40fd ($220 street) • Pentax Optio A30 ($349 street)

Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure-and
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure-and
This image shows good exposure and deep depth of field in backlit conditions. The image is sharp and colors are accurate. 1/160 f/8 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shot-at-28mm-shows-vis
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shot-at-28mm-shows-vis
This image, shot at 28mm, shows visible barrel distortion with the tilting building. Good exposure allows for both cloud and shadow detail to be visible. 1/160 f/8 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure-col
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure-col
This image shows good exposure, color accuracy and contrast on a challenging scene. There's a touch of noise in the shadows and highlights. 1/400 f/5.6 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-high-depth-of-fiel
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-high-depth-of-fiel
This image shows high depth of field even at f/2.8, the widest aperture setting. All details are sharp in this image. 1/800 f/2.8 @ ISO 100Photo By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure.-Sha
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-good-exposure.-Sha
This image shows good exposure. Shadow detail is visible though cloud detail is blown-out. Levels and minimal sharpening for the Web applied in Photoshop. 1/125 f/2.8 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-demonstrates-the-camera
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-demonstrates-the-camera
This image demonstrates the camera's ability to expose in unusual lighting situations using the spot meter. The image is properly exposed for the metered area and avoids blowing out highlight detail. 1/160 f/5.6 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-Perfect-exposure-and-color-accuracy
Leica-C-LUX-2-Perfect-exposure-and-color-accuracy
Perfect exposure and color accuracy in good lighting conditions. The camera performs well in ideal shooting conditions with even front light. 1/160 f/8 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-Good-exposure-and-OK-color-balance
Leica-C-LUX-2-Good-exposure-and-OK-color-balance
Good exposure and OK color balance with greens appearing yellowish. 1/640 f/2.8 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-high-quality-image-in-low-ligh
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-high-quality-image-in-low-ligh
This high quality image in low light shooting conditions was captured using the camera's optical image stabilization feature. It shows good exposure and excellent color balance under challenging lighting conditions. 1/8 f/4.3 @ ISO 200 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-In-this-image-the-building-is-prop
Leica-C-LUX-2-In-this-image-the-building-is-prop
In this image, the building is properly exposed though some highlights are blown out in the white painted lines on the streets and pedestrians' clothing. 1/160 f/2.8 @ ISO 100Photo By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-excellent-exposure
Leica-C-LUX-2-This-image-shows-excellent-exposure
This image shows excellent exposure and good color accuracy and sharpness on a very challenging scene spanning several exposure values. 1/160 f/2.8 @ ISO 100Photo By Zach Honig
Leica-C-LUX-2-Good-exposure-sharpness-and-color
Leica-C-LUX-2-Good-exposure-sharpness-and-color
Good exposure, sharpness and color balance at the camera's maximum focal length of 16.4mm (35mm equiv. of 100mm). Mode 1 image stabilization was used to reduce blur. 1/30 f/5.6 @ ISO 100 AWBPhoto By Zach Honig
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